Houston coach Kelvin Sampson cuts down the net after an...

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson cuts down the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. Houston won 76-46 and finished the regular season as the Big 12 Conference Champions. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This year's Big 12 Tournament could be a sign of changing times or a mere blip from the way things usually have been.

In its first season in the new-look league, top-ranked Houston romped to a regular-season title and the No. 1 seed, giving the Cougars a double bye into the quarterfinals. They capped their urn with a 30-point win over ailing Kansas, the erstwhile Big 12 power, which fell to the No. 6 seed and will be forced to play a second-round game Wednesday night.

“These conferences, now that we are where we are, would it be better if we didn't play this tournament? Sure. Give us a rest. You risk an injury,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said Monday. “But you know what? A conference tournament is important for everybody. It is important for the fans. It's important for the university. And it's important for the conference.”

It's not as if a title will do the Cougars much good. They are almost a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“Our next game — we've kind of been a next-game team all year long,” said Sampson, who has experience in the Big 12 tourney from his days leading Oklahoma, and whose team could play the Sooners or TCU in the quarterfinal round.

“The only difference now,” he added, “is if you lose, you have to go home.”

Meanwhile, the No. 16 Jayhawks are limping into the tournament without two of their biggest stars. In their 30-point loss to the Cougars on Saturday, big man Hunter Dickinson dislocated his shoulder — an MRI exam showed surgery won't be needed — while fellow All-America candidate Kevin McCullar Jr. continued to have knee pain.

Kansas's Hunter Dickinson, right, is helped after being injured during...

Kansas's Hunter Dickinson, right, is helped after being injured during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. Houston won 76-46. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

Jayhawks coach Bill Self said late Monday that Dickinson and McCullar would be OK for the NCAA Tournament, but neither will play this week in Kansas City. That leaves the Jayhawks, who already were short on depth, without two of their veteran leaders and most reliable scorers when they step on the floor at T-Mobile Center.

“I don’t feel great about about the big picture only because I don’t know what our health situation is,” Self said. "If we had our five guys and they’re all lined up and they’re healthy we can play with anybody, but we’re not right now.”

SELF IS BACK

Kansas will at least have its coach on the sideline after Self was forced to miss last year's Big 12 tourney when he experienced heart trouble on the eve of the Jayhawks' quarterfinal game. He wound up hospitalized and missed the tournament — Kansas lost to Texas in the finals — and the NCAA Tournament, where the Jayhawks were bounced by Arkansas on the opening weekend.

Kansas coach Bill Self watches his players during the second...

Kansas coach Bill Self watches his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. Houston won 76-46 and finished the regular season as the Big 12 Conference Champions. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

STARTING THINGS OFF

The Big 12 Tournament begins Tuesday, when newcomer UCF plays Oklahoma State and Cincinnati plays West Virginia. The winner of the opening game plays BYU on Wednesday while the second winner plays the Jayhawks.

The two opening-round games will be played before the Big 12 decides its women's tournament champion Tuesday night.

BYE, BYE, BYE

Now with 14 teams in the league, four earned byes into the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Cougars topped the list and got the preferred early-afternoon tip-off as the No. 1 seed, while Iowa State earned the No. 2 seed despite losing to Kansas State on Saturday. Baylor received the No. 3 seed and Texas Tech slipped into the quarterfinals as the No. 4 seed.

Things will change again next year when Oklahoma and Texas leave for the Southeastern Conference and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah join the Big 12, making it a 16-team bracket. That will mean four opening-round games rather than two.

SPEAKING OF THE LONGHORNS

Texas won its second Big 12 tourney title in three years last season, and that went a long way toward interim coach Rodney Terry getting the full-time job. The Longhorns would like nothing better than head to the SEC with another trophy.

COACHING SITUATIONS

Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton is on the hot seat heading into the Big 12 Tournament; the Cowboys were just 12-19 in the regular season and have made the NCAA Tournament only once in his seven seasons. Meanwhile, West Virginia could be playing for the last time under interim coach Josh Eilert, who took over when Bob Huggins resigned before the season.

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